Renaissance and Reformation Fugger Family
Mark Häberlein
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0332


From the late 15th to the early 17th centuries, the Fuggers of Augsburg were among the leading merchant-bankers of Europe. As the term merchant-bankers suggests, the family firm combined long-distance trade and financial services. The key to the Fuggers’ wealth was the marketing of Tyrolean and Hungarian copper and silver in return for loans to the rulers of the mining areas. The company operated a far-flung network of agencies and offices in major commercial cities such as Venice, Antwerp, Lisbon, and Seville; provided credit and banking services to the Habsburg emperors, the popes, and other European princes; and established sporadic ties with India and the New World. As information brokers, they collected newsletters from all over Europe and supplied relatives and princely clients with up-to-date information on political and military events. As Augsburg’s wealthiest mercantile family, the Fuggers also influenced the social and cultural life of the imperial city in various ways: They commissioned some of the earliest Renaissance buildings and artworks north of the Alps and initiated a major social housing project that is still in existence 500 years after its founding. As stalwart Catholics in a city that had largely turned Protestant during the Reformation, they ensured the survival of Catholicism by exerting their political influence and supporting religious orders, especially the Jesuits. The Fuggers’ influence also extended to neighboring territories: they not only extended loans to the Dukes of Bavaria, but also advised them on artistic matters and played an important role in the transfer of the aesthetic tastes of the Italian Renaissance to South German courts. Finally, the Fuggers exemplify the possibilities for social mobility in Renaissance Germany. Descendants of a weaver who had moved from the village of Graben to Augsburg in 1367, they not only entered the highest echelon of urban society, the patriciate, in 1538, but even rose into the ranks of the imperial nobility, becoming hereditary counts in 1530, forming marital alliances with Bavarian and Austrian noble families, and purchasing extensive stretches of landed property. On the eve of the Thirty Years’ War, their territories comprised more than one hundred villages in eastern Swabia. While the Fuggers are frequently mentioned in textbooks and general overviews of the Renaissance and Reformation, scholarship is largely confined to German-language works. This article reflects the preponderance of literature in German while giving due credit to the works of French, British, and American scholars and to translations.

General Overviews

Scholarship on the Fuggers began in the late 19th century when historians started to mine the family archives and examine relevant documents in a number of German and European archives and libraries. In 1896 Richard Ehrenberg published a two-volume study on European merchant-bankers and capital markets in the 16th century that strongly focused on the Fugger family. Due to several reprints and an English translation (Ehrenberg 1985), Ehrenberg’s interpretation of the period as “the age of the Fuggers” has long remained influential. Like Ehrenberg, Pölnitz 1960 is a study that concentrates on the period from 1485 to 1560, when Jacob Fugger the Rich and his nephew Anton headed the family firm. While Ehrenberg and especially Pölnitz viewed the period after 1560 as one of decline, more recent scholarship has rehabilitated the later generations of the Fugger family, whose members harbored different social and cultural values and operated in a changing business environment. Mörke 1983 looks at the Fugger family from a social historical viewpoint. Häberlein 2012, the English translation of a book originally published in German in 2006, surveys the family’s history from the late Middle Ages through the Thirty Years’ War, while the brief illustrated accounts in Herre 2009 and Kluger 2014 are geared toward a general audience. Safley 2004 is an English encyclopedia article on the Fugger family. The essays in Burkhardt 1996 provide historiographical background.

  • Burkhardt, Johannes, ed. Augsburger Handelshäuser im Wandel des historischen Urteils. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1996.

    A collection of essays originally presented at a symposium on the occasion of Anton Fugger’s 500th anniversary in 1993. Its focus is on the changing perceptions of the Fuggers and other Augsburg merchant companies by contemporaries and later historians.

  • Ehrenberg, Richard. Capital and Finance in the Age of the Renaissance: A Study on the Fuggers and Their Connections. Reprint. Fairfield, NJ: Kelley, 1985.

    English translation of the 1896 German book that first pointed out the importance of the Fuggers and other south German merchant-bankers for the economic and financial history of Renaissance Europe.

  • Häberlein, Mark. The Fuggers of Augsburg: Pursuing Wealth and Honor in Renaissance Germany. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012.

    English translation of a German survey of the family history published in 2006. A synthesis of the international scholarship, the book surveys the development of the Fugger firms from the late 14th to the mid-17th centuries as well as the family’s political, social, and cultural activities.

  • Herre, Franz. Die Fugger in ihrer Zeit. 13th ed. Augsburg, Germany: Wissner, 2009.

    A popular illustrated account for general readers that briefly summarizes the history of the Fuggers.

  • Kluger, Martin. The Fugger Dynasty in Augsburg: Merchants, Mining Entrepreneurs, Bankers and Benefactors. Augsburg, Germany: Context Verlag, 2014.

    A concise illustrated family history for a general audience.

  • Mörke, Olaf. “Die Fugger im 16. Jahrhundert: Städtische Elite oder Sonderstruktur? Ein Diskussionsbeitrag.” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 74 (1983): 141–161.

    This pathbreaking essay argues that the Fuggers constituted a singular case in 16th-century urban society: both urban citizens and members of the landed nobility, they sought to reconcile civic and noble values.

  • Pölnitz, Götz Freiherr von. Die Fugger. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1960.

    Written by the leading Fugger scholar of the mid-20th century, the book mainly focuses on the personalities and activities of Jacob Fugger the Rich and his nephew Anton. The identification of the period after 1560 as one of decline is now outdated.

  • Safley, Thomas Max. “Fugger Family.” In Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. Edited by Jonathan Dewald. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.

    Brief summary of the family’s history from the 14th century to the Thirty Years’ War.

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